134,000 individuals are homeless in California, and this number continues to increase dramatically each year, rising 14% from 2016 to 2017. In Los Angeles, the homeless population is rising even faster, at a rate of 30% from 2016 to 2017, an increase of 13,000 individuals.
Previous fixes for the state’s growing homeless population have included the straightforward and obvious — building more shelters to house the homeless. But these efforts are not working to keep the many people who need extra resources to maintain their mental health off the street.
One-third of California’s homeless population have an untreated mental illness, according to the Los Angeles Times. Therefore, a more effective solution to keep this significant portion of the homeless population off the street may be to address the root of the issue. This entails providing more resources for individuals to cope with mental health challenges to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.
In the November 2018 election, California voters chose to do just that with 63% of voters approving the passage of Proposition 2, more clumsily known as the Use Millionaire’s Tax Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Housing Bonds Measure.
Now that the measure has passed, what changed with the passage of Prop 2?
This measure shuffles around money a bit, but doesn’t directly impact anyone’s wallet. That’s because it builds off a 2004 measure, Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, which implemented a 1% tax on income exceeding $1 million in California. The money collected through this tax — around $1.5-$2.5 billion each year — is set aside for mental health services and programs.
Prop 2 clarifies that a portion of the revenue collected with the Mental Health Services Act may be used to house mentally ill individuals at risk of becoming homeless. Opponents to Prop 2 claimed that the money was supposed to be used only to treat mentally ill patients. However, supporters argued that keeping mentally ill people housed is an important part of treatment.
With Prop 2’s passage, hundreds of millions are dollars will be made available to local governments to construct housing for mentally ill individuals. The proposition’s text specifies its goal to provide funding for 20,000 supportive housing units across the state. These units will be permanent housing, not the typical shelter environment which can contribute to instability and exacerbate mental health challenges.
More permanent supportive housing units developed across the state will improve conditions for mentally ill individuals. It will also improve communities and save money, as it is more expensive to police and provide emergency services to mentally ill and other homeless individuals than it is to simply provide shelter and the chance at a better long-term outcome.